Swing Dancing: Lindy Hop. Jitterbug, Jive

The Origins Of Swing

Swing dancing goes right back to the raging 1920s, where it developed alongside jazz music among the black communities in Harlem. The same vibrant communities who had invented the Cake Walk, the Black Bottom, the Charleston and the Lindy Hop. Swinging jazz bands could be heard pumping out music in large and boisterous nightclubs like the The Cotton Club and The Savoy in New York, which opened in 1926. it was the kind of music it was impossible to sit still through and swing dancing more or less organically grew from the throbbing sounds.

The 1920s were an exciting, experimental period in 20th century history and this was reflected in the music and dancing, which had a kind of infectious vibrancy, as well as a crazy optimism. The vibe was continued into the 1930s and new dances, which had their roots in the old, sprung up. Popular bandleader Cab Calloway introduced a new tune in 1934 called the Jitterbug, which in turn spawned a new dance by the same name. It was a six beat variant of the Lindy Hop and required a serious amount of energy and chutzpah.

The Harvest Moon Ball

Along with Calloway, Swing dance was brought into the mainstream by high profile hot jazz band leaders like Benny Goodman and Count Basie and later, Glen Miller..though there were critics at the time who complained that Miller's version of swing was too slick and controlled, thus moving it away from its wilder jazz roots toward a softer, more commercial version.

In 1938 the famous Harvest Moon Ball at the Madison Square Gardens in New York, incorporated Lindy Hop and Jitterbug dance competitions into its program.
By the 1940's swing had reached its zenith an the dances were everywhere...in the movies, in the streets, homes, dance halls and nightclubs . The terms Lindy Hop, Shag, Lindy, Jive, Jitterbug and Swing were used interchangeably in popular culture to describe the same type of spirited dance and eventually it all the dances came under the general banner of 'swing', although there are distinct differences between the individual dance styles.

The video below, from the 1941 film Hellzapoppin' is a little bit old and crackly and the first part is music only, but stick with it and you'll be rewarded, as it contains one of the most 'out there' dance sequences I've ever seen - it exemplifies everything swing is about - joie de vivre, phenomenal energy, and complete freedom of expression. There's nothing uptight about these dudes...

Swing Times

By the time the middle of the century rolled around, swing was being taught in most commercial dance studios, though often in a watered down and less rambunctious form, to accommodate a less nimble and sure-footed general public.

The swing that had developed through the decades had required a fair amount of skill and energy. One high profile swing enthusiast of the 1930's..Frankie Manning, had introduced the first aerial into the Lindy Hop. He and his partner had developed a back flip that he had seen performed by professional dancer and incorporated into the dance.

Frankie Manning and partner
Frankie Manning and partner
Manning was an innovative dancer and made a name for himself at the Savoy Ballroom , where he and his partners did much to advance the swing cause and in particular the Lindy Hop. When the swing revival hit in the 1980s, Frank Manning once again proved to be an International driving force for the dance, through his performance, choreography and teaching.

Much of the swing dancing seen in vintage film clips from the era reveal the kind of expertise required to perform these dance numbers, which are in perfect sync with the music. They make it look spontaneous and easy, but of course, it wasn't. That kind of aerial flipping swing was not usually danced socially..rather, it required a high level of skill and practice and was performed professionally or for dance contests.

Still Popular

"Swing is so much more than a dance, it's a way of life. The music gets stuck in your mind and the dance is in your heart and the whole scene is engraved on your soul. You can fly."
Nicholas Hope

Swing dancing still has pockets of fans all over the world, is danced on the ballroom dancing circuit and every now and then there's an enthusiastic revival. It's s an exhilarating and social form of dance and a great way to keep fit. Many places hold regular dances and competitions, often with DJ's and live swing bands.

Swing dance resource page: Hefty Resource